When Marian University won its second NAIA football championship last week, the Knights had a definite Columbus flavor.
Six members of the title-winning squad, including three starters, hail from Columbus. One player, Columbus North graduate Daniel Sizemore, had a chance to end his playing career the same way he started — with a national championship.
“It was an awesome experience,” Sizemore said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment for me, being a senior. Looking back on it, I’m going to miss a lot of those guys and a lot of the memories.”
Like Sizemore, his former North teammate, junior Shaquille Ash was a starting linebacker for Marian. Rob McKee, a junior from Columbus East, started at left guard.
Christian Williams, a junior wide receiver from North, and Tyler Combs, a sophomore offensive lineman from North, were injured and did not play this season. Ezra Followell, a freshman offensive lineman from North, also did not play.
The Knights beat Southern Oregon 31-14 on Dec. 19 in Daytona Beach, Florida. That victory avenged a 55-31 loss to the Raiders in last year’s NAIA title game.
“Still definitely on Cloud Nine,” Ash said. “It’s unreal. We had a lot of support that came down there, and that made us really feel special. Especially coming off the loss last year, it was great to get back and accomplish it this year.”
Two weeks before the championship game, Marian had to avenge a loss from earlier this season. The Knights, who had fallen to St. Francis 45-42 at home on Oct. 3, went on the road and beat the Cougars 45-14 in the tournament semifinals.
“We thought they were a pretty tough opponent,” Ash said. “Early in the season, they got the best of us, so when we found out we were going to play them, we were hyped up. When we beat them, we felt like we could win it all.”
That included McKee.
“I think we went into both (of the final two) games just knowing if we did what we needed to do, we were going to win,” McKee said.
Ash finished second on the team with 92 tackles and third with six sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. He also forced a fumble and blocked two kicks.
“Our defensive coordinator (Scott Power) gets us prepared each week with what we’re going to do and how we’re going to defend,” Ash said. “The way he sets it up, our practices are harder than the games are, so he gets us pretty prepared.”
Sizemore started as a sophomore before missing last season with a torn ACL. He was back at linebacker for most of this season, but moved to nickel back for the title game. He also played on the punt, kickoff and kickoff return units.
“I’m very fortunate,” Sizemore said. “All of us seniors knew what had to be done. I got (a national championship) the first year. I was on special teams then, but this one, I was more a part of the team, so it meant a lot more this year. A lot of blood, sweat and tears for four years. It was one of the best moments of my life, if not the best.”
Sizemore, who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in economics, has been involved in the youth ministry at his church, The Sanctuary, and has returned to Columbus nearly every Sunday and Wednesday night to help with its youth group. He will become the church’s youth pastor and also plans to get a full-time job in the business field.
“I plan to stay close here in Columbus because I love the church, and I love helping out with the youth,” Sizemore said.
Meanwhile, Ash and McKee have another year left at Marian. They hope to follow Sizemore’s lead and capture a second national championship.
“It was nice,” McKee said of this year’s title run. “It was a lot of fun. But we’ll start working again as soon as we get back to the school.”
Five Columbus natives helped Marian University to this year’s NAIA national championship:
Tyler Combs;Sophomore;Offensive line
Ezra Followell;Freshman;Offensive line
Rob McKee;Junior;Offensive line
Christian Williams;Junior;Wide reciever